Monday, January 08, 2007
Owning "Emergent"
Friend of Emergent VillageOne of the commonly-cited characteristics of us young "postmoderns" is that we resist labels and categorizations. Thus it shouldn't come as any surprise that as soon as the "emerging church" gained that name and became a recognizable movement, people within it would start disowning the title "emergent" and declaring themselves to be above such categories - regardless of how much they might actually identify with the defining characteristics of the emerging church.

I understand this motivation. I know what it's like to have one's views dismissively labeled and thereby marginalized. I too shun most labels for that reason. And I know that it can be intimidating for newcomers to the emerging church conversation to completely jump on board with a movement that they've just discovered and aren't quite sure about yet.

On the other hand, for those who think being emergent is merely about being "cutting edge", it seems that snubbing the emergent label is their way of proving that they're not a slave to the latest trend, not just blindly following whatever is hip and current (which of course is it's own kind of "hipper-than-thou" behavior - the "I'm too hip to care about being hip" response). Of course the big problem with this reaction is the mistaken assumption that the emerging church has anything to do with being "hip" or "cool". (I call it the Andy Crouch fallacy.) Granted, emerging folks do tend to care a lot about being "relevant" to culture. But this idea of "relevancy" has more to do with what missiologists call contextualization, which has it's basis in the doctrine of Incarnation and in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9. It's hardly a superficial desire to just do "cool church".

Personally, I am not afraid to own the "emergent" label. For me it would be disingenuous not to admit that I am an "emerging" Christian, since the reality is that find myself in almost complete agreement with the spirit, direction, and beliefs of the emerging church movement. I like its openness to dialogue and diversity of beliefs among Christians, while still demonstrating a passion for the historic, orthodox Christian faith. I like its willingness to be experimental and creative in its approaches to church structure and to worship. I like the commitment to social justice, and how it situates this firmly in a broader, missional understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom. I like the acceptance of questioning and doubt, allowing people to be on a spiritual journey. I like their recognition that the Bible is always read through multiple sets of cultural and personal lenses, and thus let the Bible become less like a text book or instruction manual, and more like a living, dynamic, contextual, historical, incarnational text. I find myself consistently agreeing with most things written by emerging authors (not in a blindly accepting way, but in a "wow, they're saying what I was already thinking" way).

But more than that, I owe my faith to the emerging church conversation. I'm convinced that I would have given up on my Christian faith before now if I still thought that being a conservative evangelical was the only possible way to follow Christ. The emerging church offered me an alternative between that kind of faith or no faith. It showed me that it was possible to be a "new kind of Christian". I'm still a Christian and still in ministry because I discovered the emerging church.

In short, I just am emergent, whether I like it or not. And, since I believe in truth in advertising, I will gladly own the label.

Frankly I wish more emerging type people would have the courage to own the title too. It's not that I think it's important to create some new emergent in-crowd or anything like that. I just think it's important that those who share similar passions work together and not quibble over labels. I worry that some of the hesitancy to self-identify with the emerging church is really related to that same old Protestant impulse to separate and disassociate from anyone with whom you don't completely agree. I think one of the more helpful trends of the emerging church is to get past this need for total agreement between Christians before we're willing to associate and work together. If we're going to make an impact for the kingdom of God in this world, I think it's time that we stop defining ourselves by what we're not, and start defining ourselves by what we have in common.

Maybe for some it's a change that's as simple as how we talk about our differences. Maybe instead of saying "I like some of what those emerging church guys say, but I'm not emergent", we could instead say "I'm a part of the emerging church even though naturally I don't always agree with everything others in it say. That's kind of the point."

Anyhow, in case you were wondering, I am emergent, and I'm not afraid to say so.
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posted by Mike Clawson at 5:58 PM | Permalink |


At 1/09/2007 07:51:00 AM, Blogger gerbmom

Great thoughts, wise words. I appreciate the post. Thanks.....


At 2/02/2007 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Susan

Mike -- I don't understand how the emergent church is different from regular church. You have worship, you are interested in mission, you view your walk with Christ as a journey, and you want your faith to be contextual. How is that different from regular church. I am the program director for a main line church. We are all hearing about the emerging church, but I really don't see the difference. Can you help? Thank you, Susan


At 5/06/2008 12:47:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Susan, maybe the point is not that we're totally different, maybe the point is that we're open to learning from a wider cross-section of traditions, and are more flexible in both theology and practice.

Besides which, not all "regular" churches do fit your description. Many churches I have experienced are locked into one very narrow form of worship rather than being able to borrow from many different practices. Many are not interested in mission, or rather, define "mission" as something that paid "missionaries" do, rather than something that is central to purpose of the whole church. Many view faith as a one time event, as a line that is crossed and that's it, and not as a journey. And many most emphatically do not want their faith to be contextual, since that that (to them) means accommodating the gospel to a corrupt and sinful culture.

Your church may be different, in which case I'd say good for you. Sounds like you're already "emerging" whether you use that label or not. But truthfully not all churches are like yours.


At 2/17/2010 10:52:00 PM, Anonymous dave

so maybe my comment is a few years late, but thanks for suggesting some better language